What you should know before hiring a consultant

March 21, 2012

November 3, 2010 | dentalproductsreport.com

November 3, 2010 | dentalproductsreport.com

You’ve decided you need a little extra help. Whether you’re looking to improve your leadership skills or increase productivity in your practice, it’s important to find a dental consultant you’re comfortable working with who can help you meet your goals.

But not just any dental consultant will do. There’s plenty to consider before you sign that contract. Here’s a break down of what you should think about to help ensure the dental consultant you hire is the right consultant for the job.

1. Know what your goals are. Different consultants specialize in different areas, so you have to know exactly what your goals are before you start your search, said Penny Reed Limoli, owner of the Reed Limoli Group. Ask consultants about their specialties to see if your issue is one of them. Talk to them about your concerns and ask them to share specifics about how they can help you.

When you’re considering hiring a consultant, it’s important to take a close look at yourself, your practice and your team, said Cathy Jameson, founder and CEO of Jameson Management. Become clear about your own goals so that, as you explore the various services and approach (comprehensive or niched to one system) featured by each coach or consulting group, you can align yourself with a similar philosophy or business make up.

“If you find yourself gravitating toward one option, call them and talk with their team members,” Jameson said. “Explore the option and try to get a feel for what it will be like to work together. Some have short-term programs and others plan to be involved with your practice for the long term. So, talk with them carefully, like a courtship before marriage.”

2. Ask about their consulting approach. Some firms take the “big book” or one size fits all approach to consulting, while others diagnose the problem and then prescribe a remedy, said Bob Spiel, President of Spiel Consulting. You want to avoid any consultants who take the one size fits all approach; your practice has specific goals, and you need someone who can help you get there.

Consultants also have different approaches and philosophies when it comes to how they help their clients. Some consulting firms invite you and/or your team to come to their learning center for training, and teaching is done in a group setting, Jameson said. This gives you a chance to learn the material while interacting with other teams. Other firms conduct in-office consulting to work directly with you and your team. Others offer a combination of both. You need to decide which approach works best for what you’re trying to accomplish and your learning style.

3. Check their references. Hiring a consultant is very much like hiring a new employee, Limoli said, which is why it’s so important to check references. Go beyond just reading testimonials on their website. Ask them for contact information for clients they have helped with similar issues. Call those clients and ask them for five minutes of their time. Tell them about your situation, and ask them to share with you how the consultant helped them and if they would hire that consultant again.

When checking references, ask how accessible the consultant is, how the consultant is with follow up and how clear the consultant is with expectations, Spiel said. Will your questions be answered quickly? Does the consultant get to know you personally and really understand your goals and what you’d like to see for your practice?

You also have to make sure you, your team member and the consultant all have a positive chemistry, Spiel said.

“Just like hiring a team member, that chemistry is important for the relationship to work,” Spiel said.

4. Know the terms of the consulting agreement. Usually, a one-time visit from a consultant isn’t enough to fix whatever problem it is you’re trying to address. Most consulting programs that yield the best results are offered over a time period, maybe it’s 90 days or 12 months, Limoli said.

“It takes awhile to implement change,” Limoli said. “When you’re hiring a consultant you’re hiring a change agent, someone who has a tool or a system you need.”

You also have to know what the commitment terms are before you sign the agreement, Limoli said. If it’s a 12-month agreement and you realize after 30 or 60 days it just isn’t a good fit, can you switch to another consultant in the firm or can you part company with the firm all together? This is something you should work out before you officially hire a consultant.

5. Know your options. There are many types of consulting groups out there, and you need to find out what your options are. Jameson suggests talking to your colleagues at study clubs and calling your classmates from dental school and hygiene school to find out who they’ve used and what they liked or didn’t like about the firm. Watch social media to see what posts are being made and how their own team interacts. Network to identify good recommendations from others. Check out the trade magazines. Who is writing for these journals? Do you relate to what they are teaching in their articles? Look online and see what the differences might be.

6. Know who you are hiring. Some consulting groups are solo practitioners while others are a group of consultants, and there are benefits to both, Limoli said. If you’re working with a smaller organization, you’re getting that person you heard speak at the last meeting you attended or who wrote that article that seemed to be based on your practice.  With a bigger firm, if one consultant isn’t working out you may be able to change to another who might be a better fit. They may have one or two team members who specialize in whatever your problem is, giving you more options.

7. Look for a consultant who has a structured follow-up program. Having a consultant come in and identify your problems is great, but it doesn’t do a lot of good if that consultant doesn’t help you with a plan to implement that change, Limoli said. You need to find a consultant who will guide you through implementing the changes necessary to acheive your goals.

8. Consider an analysis first. A lot can be learned from the consultant and about the consultant through an onsite analysis, Limoli said. It’s a one time fee for a comprehensive exam of the practice, much like you would do for a new patient. During this analysis, you can get a feel for the consultant’s expertise. You can also see if you feel like this is someone you’re comfortable taking advice from.

“There may be an expense to have an analysis first, but it’s better to start here and make sure you have a good fit than to get married and then think ‘wow this is a little bit of a surprise,’” Limoli said.

9. Do your own research. Dentists create very trusting relationships with their supply house representatives and one of these trusted reps might refers you to a consulting firm, Spiel said. This is fine, but you can’t take the rep’s word that this consultant will do what needs to be done, because the supply house rep only has third hand knowledge of how good the consultant/consulting firm is.  

“The bottom line is dentists (and  partners, if applicable) must do their homework,” Spiel said. “They can’t simply take someone else’s word for it. Even someone who is viewed as a trusted advisor.”

10. Find a consultant in the dental industry. There are a lot of great consultants out there, but not all of them have experience in the dental industry, Limoli said. It’s usually best to work with someone who knows the operations of a dental practice and has experience working with issues or goals that are similar to yours.

“There are a lot of bright people with great business skills yet they have no experience working with dentists. Many of them will be practicing on you,” Limoli said. If you know on the front end that they don’t know dental that’s fine but I wouldn’t’ assume. Ask how long they’ve been in the dental industry.”

Before you make your final decision, Limoli recommends talking with at least three different consultants--even if you absolutely love the first one you interview. And if you don’t find the right fit after three, keep searching. This is an important decision and one you shouldn’t take lightly. If you’ve decided it’s time to make a change in your practice, you need the right consultant to help make it happen.

 

Renee Knight is a senior editor for DPR. Contact her at rknight@advanstar.com.